California City Looks for Place to Stash Its Weed (Production)

The Northern California city of Arcata has long tolerated the production of California's most second-most-lucrative mood-altering crop. Now, the city is considering an official zoning designation to accommodate marijuana production.
July 24, 2015, 9am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Bob Doran

They don't call it the "Emerald Triangle" for nothing. Emerald has long referred to the lush forests of California's north coast, and, more recently, to its profusion of black-market marijuana production. Lately, though, green has referred to cash—the roughly $1.4 billion that the commercial marijuana industry, operating on the fringes of legality, has brought to the region. Statewide, the weed industry is estimated to be worth $31 billion annually, compared to $51 billion for wine.

With potentially hundreds of growers, producers, and chefs operating within its city limits, the hippie-friendly city of Arcata has taken steps to become the first city in the country to regulate, and accommodate, not only pot dispensaries (which are legal for consumers of medical marijuana in California) but also production facilities. The logic, say some city officials, is clear: give producers a proper, safe place to operate, and they won't invade neighborhoods or, worse, create dangerous, unsanitary products. 

Arcata's city council has taken preliminary steps to create a "Medical Marijuana Innovation Zone," which could be implemented by the end of the year. It could potentially accommodate indoor growers and producers of edibles, among others. This move hearkens back to the origins of zoning, by which cities segregated noxious uses from everyday folks. If the industry continues to grow, the zoning could serve as a model for other cities in pot-friendly states and give Arcata a leg up if Californians vote to legalize recreational marijuana, as it might next year via a ballot measure. 

"City officials say the power of zoning offers its best, and perhaps only, tool for regulating the marijuana industry, which otherwise depends on decisions at the state level. Arcata-based attorney Mark Harris, advisor to the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says he considers the zone an 'overwhelmingly positive' development. He sees this approach as a model not only for cities throughout California but also for those in other pot-friendly states."

"It’s refreshing to see local authorities recognizing that their communities will benefit economically by welcoming the transition of this already lucrative cash crop from criminal hands to tax-paying, job-creating, law-abiding businesses," says "Radical" Russ Belville, a Portland, Oregon-based radio host and marijuana activist.

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Published on Monday, July 20, 2015 in Next City
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